Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Foot-Lit, Part 2

Next on the list:

2. Matthew Hall, The Away Game

Just to avoid any confusion, I’m referring here to the original version of this book, published in 2000, rather than the updated version (one of the innumerable stocking-fillers churned out in the period surrounding the 2006 World Cup).

The book is essentially an account of the adventures of Australian players in Europe, from pioneers like Joe Marston, who turned out for Preston North End in the 1950s, right through to the likes of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.

The danger of such a book is that the stories might appear barely distinguishable after a while. Yet Hall manages, partly by refusing to observe a strict chronological order and partly by not concentrating solely on the “superstars”, to keep the tales intriguing and varied.

Indeed, some of the more interesting chapters are those dealing with lesser-known players, like the adventurous Andrew Bernal (who subsequently worked as David Beckham’s assistant in Madrid), and Jon Brady, who received his fair share of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune before settling down at a lower-league English club.

Hall writes playfully and well, occasionally letting his own personality intrude, but usually so as to enhance the narrative. And when it comes to the players whose peregrinations he outlines, he consistently focuses on the personalities rather than the statistics.

Intriguing characters emerge: the warm-hearted Adrian Alston, who managed to rebuild his life after football and business had turned sour for him. The headstrong John Filan, unwilling part-instigator of the Stewart Report and prophet without honour in his own country. And, perhaps the most interesting of all, the hard-nosed Barry Silkman, agent for many Australian players. The chapter dealing with Silkman is the only proper, sustained portrait of a football agent – his methods, his motivations, his background – that I’ve ever read.

In a way, the book’s centre of gravity is that catastrophic evening in Melbourne in November 1997. Everybody has their say: Steve Horvat manfully tries to make sense of it all, Aurelio Vidmar recalls exploding at his family when they brought the game up at a get-together, and Terry Venables admits that the evening still haunts him.

And in the book’s most poignant moment, Hall describes the effect the fateful Iran game had on a long-term Socceroo aficionado:

Football mattered to Harry Bowman when he hauled himself from his crappy wooden seat that night, even though he felt that a little bit of himself had just died. It mattered as he walked out of the MCG into the cool night air, away from the buzzing crowd and the shining lights and the hooting airhorns. And it mattered as he walked through the trees and into the darkness, where he burst into uncontrollable and unrestrained tears.

I wonder where Harry Bowman was on the 16th of November 2005.

The Away Game is a fascinating, informative read.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Worthy Winners

Congratulations, Iraq.

I was already regretting my prediction of a Saudi win after ten minutes of last night's game; the Iraqis looked hungrier, more composed on the ball, quicker to the 50-50s and altogether more likely to break through. Malek Maaz, so dangerous against Japan and Uzbekistan, was superbly policed by Bassim Abbas, while the outstanding Jassim Gholam made sure that the other Saudi attackers had scant time on the ball.

It was hard to believe that this was the same side that had looked so listless in the second half of their opening game against Thailand!

Although the eventual Iraqi goal (the umpteenth that the Saudis have conceded from a set-piece) owed something to good fortune, given that the initial corner was awarded incorrectly, it was well-deserved. It was fitting that Younis Mahmoud was the scorer, although he managed to besmirch his tournament performance somewhat with an outrageous piece of play-acting after a trivial confrontation with a Saudi defender.

It was in midfield that Iraq really dominated, with Qusay Munir carrying on his excellent form from the Korea game and Nashat Akram showing glimpses of his earlier brilliance. I still feel that Helio dos Anjos made a mistake in omitting the in-form Ahmed Al-Mousa from the Saudi starting eleven; significantly, when the midfielder did finally arrive at half-time, he nearly tore through to score after being on the pitch for barely a minute. Yet, by that stage, Iraq were already well in control.

The sentimental aspect aside, Iraq were clearly worthy winners of the tournament. Their admirable defence conceded only two goals, one of which was a dubious penalty (just like the Italians at last year's World Cup, in fact), and their attack, despite the early loss of the inventive Salih Sadir, never looked short of ideas or drive.

Needless to add, they have also brought some much-needed joy to their stricken country.

Felicitations to the 2007 Asian Champions.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


With Respect to Asia

I think someone needs to tell Vince Grella to pull his head in.

Yes, the Omanis did indulge in some time-wasting in our opening game at the Asian Cup. Yes, there was the occasional instance of questionable behaviour from our opposition and lax officiating in the other games. But we are surely used to this in Asia by now, and it does not alter the fact that we were outplayed by Oman, dismally poor against Iraq, somewhat lucky to defeat the Thais by such a solid margin, and never particularly threatening against Japan.

Grella's refrain of "we didn't get no respect" sounds pitifully shallow when you consider his own words:

We have players in the best leagues in the world and I don't even know the names of half their team.

How very respectful.

It is consistent, however, with the attitude adopted by the Australian players in the lead-up to the tournament, which was singularly disrespectful of their opposition. The way they approached their opening two matches, too, proceeding at a snail's pace and considering tracking runners and marking up unnecessary against Asian opposition, did not imply a great deal of respect either.

For Grella to complain about pre-game baiting and provocative goal celebrations, given his long experience of Italian football, is disingenuous.

We may not particularly admire the time-wasting tactics of some Asian sides, and we may curse the fact that our "physical" reputation so plainly influences referees in matches involving Australian teams. But after a tournament in which our national team simply did not deserve to progress any further than it did, play-acting or no play-acting, poor refereeing or not, it is simply undignified (especially coming from a player who performed as poorly as Grella did) to blame the opposition's theatrics.

Of course, the SBS crew know very well what caused the Socceroos' relative failure in the Asian Cup - and they have the empty rhetoric and the tendentious generalizations to prove it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Foot-Lit, Part 1

Hamish over at Football Down Under recently compiled a useful list of football books which he has either enjoyed, purchased or tried to track down.

I’ve done a few book reviews on this site, but Hamish’s diligence has spurred me to provide a more lengthy list of books which have either broadened my knowledge of the game, or simply given me hours of enjoyment.

Herewith, then, my own top five:

1. Brian Glanville, The Story of the World Cup

This is, above all, the book that encouraged me to write about the game (even if my efforts read like a stilted ramble compared with Glanville’s magnificent prose). Glanville has a unique gift for bringing the game to life, and his depictions of individual games, goals, players and managers are little gems of sports writing. Consider this, his description of the celebrations that followed Brazil’s victory in the 1970 final:

The Brazilian jubilation afterwards was as spectacular and memorable as anything one had seen on the field: a joyful, dancing invasion of fans milling around their victorious players, pulling off their bright yellow shirts and hoisting them, bare to the waist, on to their shoulders. In this exuberance, this unconfined delight, one seemed to see a reflection of the way Brazil had played; and played was, indeed, the word. For all their dedication, all their passion, they and their country had somehow managed to remain aware that football was, after all, a game; something to be enjoyed.

It will make sense to cricket fans if I say that Glanville is, for my money, the Neville Cardus of football (without the pretension).

It is a failing of many English-language accounts of the World Cup that they focus mainly on the fortunes of England and the other home nations. Although Glanville’s book is guilty of this to a small extent, he is very comprehensive in his scope, giving generous accounts of World Cup surprise packages such as the North Koreans of 1966 and the Tunisians of 1978.

Now 74, Glanville updates his magnum opus after every tournament, but as the years pass some inaccuracies do creep in (there are a few significant factual errors in his account of the 2002 tournament, for instance). The well-thumbed edition I own was purchased briefly before the 1998 tournament in France, but I’ve consulted subsequent editions avidly for his impressions of the later instalments.

I was overjoyed to get the chance to meet Glanville in Germany last year, and on my telling him how much I’d enjoyed the book, he complained that his publishers had left out plenty of amusing material related to the earlier tournaments. Indeed, the chapters dealing with the pre-war World Cups are surprisingly short; apparently, the publishers decided that events that far back would be of little interest to the average reader. A pity.

In Part 2: a look at the game closer to home.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Gulf Showdown

Iraq getting past South Korea was perhaps not a huge surprise, given the quality of the Iraqi side and the Koreans' bluntness up front throughout the tournament. But few pundits could honestly claim to have predicted Japan's loss to Saudi Arabia.

The first semi-final followed a pattern that was predictable for anyone who had watched the Koreans' previous matches. They pressed well, moved the ball around commendably and rarely gave much away in defence. But they went to pieces in and around the opposition box, often shooting hastily or wasting the final pass. Lee Chun-Soo, as Paul Trimboli correctly concluded, was simply trying too hard, and the other forwards just haven't done enough at this tournament.

Little Choi Sung-Kuk, lavishly praised in many quarters, flattered to deceive, often blitzing his way to within sight of goal but faltering when it really mattered.

For their part, the Iraqis, put under genuine pressure on the ball for the very first time at the event, suddenly looked distinctly fallible. Nashat Akram was, for once, quite anonymous, and was readily eclipsed in midfield by the industrious Qusay Munir. The Iraqis, their space and time on the ball diligently limited by Pim Verbeek's charges, turned over possession with regularity in the first half.

Perhaps the Koreans deserved to win, but a side that has failed to score in nearly five hours of football should not really be in a tournament final.

Japan, calm and steady throughout the event, eventually found that steadiness and tactical discipline just weren't enough. Against the Saudis, when a change of tack was so obviously required, they refused to budge from their measured build-ups until injury time in the second half, when they finally started belting the ball into the mixer (and, it might be added, causing the uneasy Saudi defence some concern as a result).

At the other end, the Saudis' admirable technique and trickery always looked likely to pose problems, and their second and third goals were of the highest quality. After scoring the finest team goal at the event in their game against Uzbekistan, the Saudis duly provided the best individual goal of the competition last night, the irrepressible Malek Maaz ridiculing Yuki Abe on the left before cheekily toe-poking the ball home.

After the game, Andy Harper picked out the Al-Qahtani brothers and the aforementioned Maaz as the Saudis' only players of consequence, but this is unfair, in my view. The thoughtful midfielder Taisar Al-Jassam has had an excellent tournament, and Ahmed Al-Mousa has done so well as substitute in the Saudis' last two games that Helio dos Anjos will surely be tempted to start him in Sunday's final.

It is in defence that the Saudis are clearly weak - the goalkeeper, Yasar Al-Mosailem, is an obvious liability - but I wonder whether the Iraqis have the physical presence to really hit them where it hurts. Younis Mahmoud, Iraq's main man up front, has won no end of plaudits in the last couple of weeks, but he has been somewhat hit-and-miss in the last couple of games.

The final is a difficult one to pick, but I'll go with the Saudis. Although they will not press the Iraqis as much as the Koreans did, I feel they have the edge in terms of quality up front. Malek Maaz has been a revelation, Yasser Al-Qahtani remains a serious danger, and there are a couple of midfielders who know how to slip a ball through to the forward line, too.

Having said that, I'd love to see an Iraqi victory, given the unspeakable horrors that their country has endured over the last several years.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


East End Tango - another update

What a horrible, embarrassing mess the whole Carlos Tevez/West Ham affair has become.

The Premier League were satisfied that West Ham had resolved the anomaly of Tevez being part-owned by a third party (hence the young striker being allowed to continue playing for the club, which he helped save from relegation), but the head of MSI, wanted in Brazil, now wants his cut from the mooted transfer to Machester United. West Ham are, understandably, refusing to play ball.

The Premier League are backing West Ham, as they are clearly obliged to do. Kia Joorabchian, the man behind MSI, is taking action against the London club. No-one seems entirely sure of the role played by the exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky. FIFA have passed the buck.

This (although a week old) is the best summary of the sorry affair that I've been able to find. If anyone can explain to me exactly what is meant by "economic rights" with relation to Tevez, I'd be much obliged.

Surely the moral of the story is that FIFA needs to legislate against third-party ownership of players. UEFA's Michel Platini, for one, certainly seems to think so. To quote the article linked in the previous paragraph:

Third-party ownership is a bad thing for competitive football. While the idea of Tevez joining the array of attacking talent at Old Trafford is an appealing prospect, it would be disastrous to encourage the ownership of players by external parties. Inevitable problems would arise, not least that of conflict of interest. If one body owns players at several different clubs, would it not leave the door open for the manipulation of results?

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Asian Cup - The Semis

Down to the last four in the Asian Cup, and although the semi-final line-up is not really anything out of the ordinary, the roads that a couple of the teams have taken to get there have been slippery indeed.

So then, a preview:

Korea Republic v. Iraq

If Korea end up winning the tournament, they owe a significant vote of thanks to the Indonesian striker Elie Aiboy, who fluffed an excellent chance against them in the final minute of their third group game. Had he scored, Korea would have exited the tournament in even more ignominious fashion than Australia.

The withdrawal of Park Ji-Sung and others has left Pim Verbeek's squad somewhat short of craft, but they have no shortage of tactical discipline and fighting spirit. The Iranians found space and time on the ball very hard to come by in the quarter-final, and although Korea did not often threaten at the other end, their defence never looked all that likely to be breached. It was a match which, in truth, had penalties written all over it from the half-hour mark.

It's hard to find a real defensive weakness in the Korean ranks, but they have lacked some consistency up front; neither Cho Jae-Jin nor Lee Dong-Gook have had a particularly good tournament. The left-winger Yeom Ki-Hun, impressive in the earlier games, seems to have run out of puff.

Iraq barely raised a sweat in their quarter-final against a largely supine Vietnam, and this could be very important with the semi-final in mind. They have had an extra day's rest, and the Koreans were forced to extra time and penalties by the Iranians.

Although complacency occasionally crept into the Iraqis' play against Vietnam, there is much to like about their team. Nashat Akram continues to be a commanding influence in midfield, Hawar Mohammed is full of ideas on the left, and with Salih Sadir to return to the side to support the prolific Younis Mahmoud, Iraq will have plenty to offer in the final third.

I'm going to pick an upset in this one. Korea will be very hard to breach, but I feel that tiredness might just be the deciding factor in the contest.

Japan v. Saudi Arabia

Japan have played steadily and well throughout the tournament. Although Shunsuke Nakamura has not yet reached the heights of which he is capable, Naohiro Takahara is in incisive form, and the midfield duo of Keita Suzuki and Kengo Nakamura has anchored the side commendably. Their defence has looked more solid as the tournament has progressed, too.

They do still lack some punch in the final third, especially in the "final ball" department. Australia vouchsafed them a good deal of possession at times during the quarter-final (particularly, of course, after Vince Grella's dismissal), but Ivica Osim's team were surprisingly laboured in their attacks and relatively toothless from set-pieces.

At times, against Australia, they were unnecessarily deferential, I thought (their twin centre-halves played extraordinarily deep for much of the game). It's unlikely that they will be as cautious against the Saudis.

The Saudi Arabia v. Uzbekistan quarter-final was far and away the most open and thrilling game of the tournament so far. The result was somewhat unfair on the Uzbeks, who played some tremendous football in the first half, hit the woodwork several times, and had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out for offside in one of the worst decisions of the tournament.

The Saudis were lively and inventive in attack (their second goal was an absolute gem, easily the best team goal of the event), but their defence was all at sea in the opening period. They struggled to cope with the strength and movement of the Uzbek attack, conspicuously failed to track runs from midfield, and never got to grips with the clever left-wing incursions of Vitaliy Denisov, one of the stars of the tournament.

If Japan's attack is on song, then they will surely find plenty of gaps. It would be a good time, too, for Shunsuke Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo to rediscover their set-piece prowess; against Uzbekistan, the Saudis again gave ample evidence of their deficiencies in this department.

I'll pick Japan, but it won't be a walkover by any means.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Local Faith - update

It's the traditional time for post-mortems, recriminations and knee-jerk suggestions for improvement (most of them involving that favourite football fan chorus, Sack The Coach). In a few months' time we will probably all have realized that it was simply a sub-par performance in difficult conditions, in a new competition, under a coach who made some poor decisions under pressure. But right now, it's headless chook time.

One of the more coherent and interesting articles of recent days has been this from Mike Cockerill (whose desperate exculpations of Graham Arnold are, admittedly, becoming somewhat tiresome). Pointing to the prowess of the A-Leaguers at the Asian Cup, he has suggested drawing the squads for future qualifiers in Asia from the local brigade.

It's a tempting suggestion. I don't agree.

Let's look at the last time Australia played an away game in Asia with a largely home-based squad. It was the so-called AFC-OFC Challenge Cup against Japan in 2001 (scroll about half-way down this page for the details).

Australia got crushed. And trust me, I watched the game and remember it well, 3-0 was flattering for the Socceroos.

Now, the A-League is not the NSL; it is a more professional operation (especially when compared to the NSL in its final days). But a good few dozen of Australia's top players would be missing were the squads for Asian qualifiers to be limited to just the locals. It's worth remembering, yet again, that there are plenty of second-tier players based in Europe who seem to have dropped off the radar since the move to Asia.

The A-League season is still very short. It is a summer competition, which, although it perhaps prepares the players better for some Asian assignments, does militate against the pace of the game to some extent. A further point, which I've mentioned before, is that many of the away matches in Asia are actually far closer to Europe than Australia.

Europe is still the testing ground, and building a squad around the A-League would be unwise, in my opinion.

The comparison to the home-based squads of the other Asian nations is illusory. For reasons of language and culture more than anything, Australian players are more readily accepted in the European leagues, and therefore they head to Europe in far greater numbers. Even the Koreans and the Japanese have only a handful of players who have successfully made the jump.

With Mark Bresciano's "roster" comments in mind, there is clearly a role for A-Leaguers to play in the run-up to 2010 (personally, I would be inclined to omit from the squad anyone who mentioned the word "roster", but that's another issue). However, parochialism should have its limits.

This piece, which I wrote nearly a year ago, still reflects my views.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Hanoi Andante

The penalty shoot-out is a cruel business. It produces convenient scapegoats and artificial heroes, and its result often fails to reflect the just deserts of the respective sides.

Australia, of course, hadn't done enough to win tonight's game, but then neither had Japan.

Sadly, just as we seemed to be playing our way into the tournament, just as we appeared to have sorted out most of our defensive problems, a calamitous mistake from an otherwise excellent Mark Milligan and a ludicrous red card for Vince Grella forced Australia to grasp for the lottery of penalties - and, though we got there, it wasn't enough.

It might have appeared that the Japanese were approaching the game too timidly right from the outset, but one shouldn't take credit away from the Socceroos. They started brightly and aggressively, as they did against Thailand, and the effect was the same: they managed to put their opponents onto the back foot.

Indeed, the Japanese defence kept a very, very deep line throughout the first half, which meant that switching the play was something of a chore for them. As a result, Australia were not put under sufficient pressure in defence.

It was a pity, however, that Brett Emerton and David Carney did not get forward a little more often. Australia's lack of width meant that our attack, too, lacked variety.

Australia's general rhythm of play, on the other hand, was good. In contrast to the opener against Oman, in which the Socceroos simply put their opponents under no pressure at all, there were brief periods of pressing in between "rest periods" in which the ball was shuffled around the defence. Andante rather than adagio this time, and suitable for the conditions.

The set-pieces of the Japanese, which might have been a considerable worry had Shunsuke Nakamura's radar been functioning properly, were mediocre. Their delivery from the flanks was ordinary. Shunsuke Nakamura, perhaps in an effort to escape the attentions of Grella, dropped deep and popped up on both flanks in an effort to get into his erstwhile groove. He rarely did so.

At the half-time break, although they had played rather the better football, it was hard to see how the Japanese would break through; Naohiro Takahara's ability to find space for himself in the box seemed the most likely route to a goal...and so, ultimately, it proved.

What a pity that, just when Australia had reaped the reward for their patient, canny play, they were hit with a massive double blow. Vince Grella had easily his best game of the tournament (not that this was any great achievement), and he will never receive a softer red card.

It was very strange that Graham Arnold withdrew both the strikers and left Harry Kewell to thrash around alone up front, but Japan's refusal to really take the game to a ten-man Australia - there were still four defenders looking after Kewell even at the final whistle - meant that their own chances to score were limited. I don't feel that either coach emerged from this game particularly well.

Where to now, then, for the Socceroos?

The experience of the Asian Cup has been invaluable. They will surely approach the World Cup qualifiers with greater knowledge, greater respect for their opponents and a greater awareness of how to "play to the conditions". Tonight's game, I feel, showed that they have already made some progress in the latter department.

I stated before the tournament that anything less than a semi-final berth could be considered a relative failure; I still believe that's a fair assessment. We played abysmally in our opening two matches, were somewhat lucky in the third, and finally started playing to our potential when we had already drawn perhaps the toughest possible opponent in the knockout rounds.

Graham Arnold should probably be replaced, but his reign has not been the unmitigated disaster that it will no doubt be considered hereafter. He has perhaps clung too fondly to the tactical schemes of Guus Hiddink, and has not always reacted appropriately to changing game situations. But he deserves credit for rallying the side, and making some necessary changes, after our dismal beginning in the Asian Cup.

Now for the challenge of getting to South Africa.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Mr. Not Hiddink

The speculation that Dick Advocaat may take over the Socceroo reins from the hapless Graham Arnold has produced some strange reactions.

Although Advocaat wouldn't be my first choice, his record is not exactly poor, especially at international level. He took a transitional Dutch team (badly rocked by the pre-tournament withdrawal of Ruud Gullit) to the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals, losing narrowly to Brazil.

His return to the Oranje hot spot for Euro 2004 was moderately successful; the team may not have thrilled, but they made it to the semis (and, in my opinion, were a little hard done by in the semi-final, where Portugal's right-back Miguel got away with some pretty rough treatment of the young winger Arjen Robben).

Then there's 2006.

It's amazing that his stewardship of the Korean team at last year's World Cup has been considered a failure, when in fact he did better than any previous manager of an Asian team in a European World Cup since 1966.

And yet, in misty-eyed, naïve articles like this, we read...

Perhaps FFA should consult the South Koreans, who turned to Advocaat last year to follow Hiddink's unforgettable semi-final charge of the 2002 World Cup.

They were left bitterly disappointed when Advocaat failed to get them out of the group stage in Germany, despite needing only a draw against Switzerland in their final pool game.

Mr. Lusetich, you might recall that the Koreans' games in the 2002 tournament were played...in Korea. You might also recall one or two appalling refereeing decisions which gave the Koreans a decided leg-up at the earlier event.

Then there's this comparison, which leaves this particular reader rather puzzled:

Hiddink, of course, performed miracles with Australia in Germany, while Advocaat was criticised widely for South Korea's early exit from last year's World Cup.

In fairness, Mr. Dick's article gives Advocaat a pretty fair hearing, but is the above really a suitable description of the fortunes of the two countries when they both, erm, ended up with four points from the group stage?

The chief objection to Advocaat appears to be very simple: he isn't Guus.

I've stated elsewhere that some Australian football commentators, and the vast majority of the Australian football public, seriously need to Get Over Hiddink. He made a very fine contribution, but he has moved on, and so should we. Mr. Lusetich's cringeworthy hankerings in the article linked above have all the hallmarks of a child looking for his missing mother in a supermarket.

My main concern about Advocaat is that his legendarily heavy-handed style may not be a very good fit for Australian players; on the other hand, on the evidence of this Asian Cup, a firm hand mightn't be a bad idea for the Socceroos, whose high-profile stars have simply not been playing with anything like sufficient commitment in Thailand.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Some Asian Observations

Now that the Asian Cup has reached its first lull, some general reflections on the tournament so far are apposite.


The Crowds

Apart from the games involving the four host nations, the attendances have been terribly disappointing. Parochialism is surely only part of the story; there appears to be a widespread belief in south-east Asia that the big European clubs are the only foreign footballers really worth turning out to see, which is a shame.

The South Korea v. Saudi Arabia fixture in Group D was the only game between "foreign" teams that attracted a five-figure crowd, and yet the football in that game, although of a good quality, was not by any means open or entertaining. Perhaps the best game I've seen so far at the tournament was Iran's opening win over Uzbekistan, with the winger Javed Kazemian to the fore.

Were the tournament to be held in Australia, though, would the football public show more interest? Sadly, I suspect not.

The Play-Acting

What play-acting?

That's right, there's been surprisingly little. Oman tried a bit against Australia (though not as much as some have claimed - they certainly had nothing at all on Shanghai Shenhua), and Korea, surprisingly, resorted to some theatrics against the Indonesian hosts last night, in the desperate search for as many set-pieces as possible. Otherwise, the tournament has featured little of such chicanery.

And there is a corollary to that:

The Refereeing

Once again, we expected the worst after some of the lily-livered officiating during the Asian Champions' League. But the men in black have given a pretty good account of themselves on the whole; even Messrs. Shield and Breeze, our two (2) representatives, have lifted their game.

Is it possible that, under the watchful gaze of the AFC bigwigs, both the players and the referees have been rather more willing to enter into the spirit of the game than during their Asian club ties?

Last but not least:

The Standard

It's been good. Certainly better than we expected, and although the host nations have clearly lived beyond their means thanks to the conditions, some of the displays of Thailand and Vietnam have been impressive; even the Indonesians, though somewhat hit-and-miss at times, have been competitive. The Gulf nations are, as we knew, technically adept, but they are not to be overawed physically either.

If there is a general weakness across all the Asian teams, it is surely finishing. Calmness in front of goal, the ability to stick the ball into the back of the net - it has been lacking for many of the teams at the event.

As the Asian nations begin to export more players to the tough European leagues, however, I feel this aspect of their play will slowly improve.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Turning Point?

Well, 4-0 over a host nation (probably the best of the four, incidentally) in a crunch game. You can't ask for much more than that.

Or can you?

You could perhaps have asked for more from the two strikers, who, after providing the physical presence to put our opponents on the back foot early, did pitifully little until Mark Viduka began to find Tim Cahill such a congenial provider.

You could perhaps have asked for the midfielders (Jason Culina in particular) to have been less leaden-footed in the second half, when the Thais (let us be frank) ran rings around us in that area of the park.

But you can't be over-critical. The Socceroos finally proved that this tournament does mean something to them, and Graham Arnold's changes were good ones. David Carney was lively, Michael Beauchamp steady, Mark Milligan outstanding.

Luke Wilkshire's move to the right was long overdue, and worked well. The substitution of Harry Kewell for an ineffectual John Aloisi was appropriate, and the addition of Tim Cahill (who perhaps should have started ahead of a sharper but still indifferent Mark Bresciano) was ultimately decisive.

Now then: Japan.

Apart from that surreal afternoon in Kaiserslautern, our recent record against one of our oldest rivals has not been good. And they are running into form; Naohiro Takahara and Seiichiro Maki now appear a menacing front pairing, and with Shunsuke Nakamura showing flashes of his best form, the Japanese must go into Saturday's game as favourites.

The key could be the set-pieces. Japan possess two very capable strikers of the dead ball in Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo, who scored a lovely goal against Vietnam from a free kick just outside the box. We have already shown, both in this tournament and just prior, that our defence from set-pieces is inadequate. We will need Mark Schwarzer to be well and truly on his mettle.

Should Arnold make any changes to the revamped team? Lucas Neill is likely to return, despite Milligan's splendid (match-winning, in my opinion) performance at the heart of the defence against Thailand; with Vince Grella once again looking shaky, would it be feasible to restore Neill to defence while giving Milligan Grella's role in midfield?

Arnold has shown enormous faith in Grella, and I can't see him wavering from it against Japan. In addition, Grella will surely be asked to play on Nakamura, whom he would know from the latter's Reggina days.

David Carney did enough to suggest he should be given another go in the left wing-back role, although if truth be told, the left flank was left exposed quite often in the course of the Thailand game. Carney did, at least, show some unexpectedly good defensive instincts at times.

I still feel there is room for Archie Thompson up front. With Aloisi looking blunt and battle-worn, and with Japan's central defenders seeming rather less vulnerable to physical threats than at previous events, I would opt for Thompson as Mark Viduka's partner.

And no, I haven't forgotten what Aloisi did to the Japanese in Germany. But that was at a time when their confidence and self-belief was shot to smithereens; at the moment, the Japanese look anything but short of confidence.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


The Debacle...and after

Very late in the day, I realise...but, now that I've had a chance to watch the game, some thoughts.

There were periods in the match when Australia actually played fairly well. But whenever Graham Arnold's men started stringing a couple of decent moves together, there tended to be a weak link in the attacking chain. In the first fifteen minutes, when Australia looked somewhat the better side, Brett Holman was the man. The Dutch-domiciled attacker has been in lousy form of late, and he simply could not get into the groove against Iraq at all.

Harry Kewell produced a couple of incisive runs and crosses in that opening period, but when things started going against the Australians - and this is a worrying habit of Kewell's - he took his foot off the pedal. Amongst the crowd of players in green and gold who need to take a long look in the mirror after Friday night's performance, Kewell should be near the front of the queue.

In the end, it was individual mistakes that cost the goals, but there is no denying that Iraq deserved the victory. Their midfield functioned much better, the clever Nashat Akram giving a commanding display in the engine room, and they showed greater urgency in the final third.

Urgency. It's something that Australia, once again, pitifully lacked.

So many times, in the first half, one of the midfielders (often Vince Grella) took an eternity to appraise matters before knocking a telegraphed ball up to a player who was already tightly marked. Inevitably, the "move" would be over as soon as it had started.

So many times, the potential receiving players refused to budge from their positions, ensuring that the Iraqis' defensive task was straightforward.

It was dull, laboured stuff.

The Iraqis, by comparison, passed the ball around briskly at times, moved off the ball diligently, and generally played as if they wanted to create something.

It's hard to judge whether Arnold or his players deserve more criticism. Certainly, the players once again performed well below themselves. But once again, Graham Arnold's stubborn insistence on his Hiddink-esque system, and his inability to deal with a changing game situation in any other than a hackneyed manner, cost the Socceroos.

Why was Brett Holman started in the three-quarter role, when he has so plainly been in poor form of late?

Why was Mark Viduka left isolated up front yet again, after the Oman game had demonstrated that he needed a partner?

Why was Luke Wilkshire again used at left-back, a position to which he is totally unsuited?

After presumably being brought on to help Mark Viduka up front, why was Archie Thompson then wastefully plonked out on the right flank?

But spilt milk is spilt milk. What about the decider against Thailand?

Some suggestions:

Vince Grella has had his second chance, now he should be dropped. His display against Iraq was abysmal; caught ball-watching at all three of the Iraqi goals, giving away several needless free kicks (including the one that led to Iraq's first goal), taking an aeon to release the ball in midfield, and engaging in some petulant shoving towards the end of the first half which should really have resulted in a second yellow card. He is an absolute spectre of the player we saw at the World Cup.

Mark Bresciano, too, has done nothing to merit a continued place in the side. He was snuffed out by the impressive Bassim Abbas in the first half, and his move infield in the second period did not improve matters.

Harry Kewell has looked worryingly blasé at times during the opening couple of games, and a spell on the bench might do him some good. It's a great pity, since he is still our finest player on his day. But when Graham Arnold made his ill-advised if not entirely inaccurate comment about players not wanting to be there, he may well have been thinking of Kewell (among others).

Who's in, then? With Lucas Neill suspended, Mark Milligan is the obvious candidate to plug that particular hole. Paddy Kisnorbo was once again a liability; it's Michael Beauchamp's turn in the other centre-half slot.

Carl Valeri deserves a chance in the holding midfield role, with Grella performing so poorly. As for the attacking third, Nick Carle (who should surely have been introduced against Iraq) is worth a punt, with his more experienced colleagues suffering from feet of clay. Tim Cahill may have contributed to Iraq's second goal with a sloppy back-pass, but he certainly lent an edge to the Australian attack once he came on.

And David Carney for Kewell on the left wing? Unimaginable going into the tournament, but not out of the question now.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Coming Soon...

Apologies for the lack of posts this morning. I've been laid up sick for the last couple of days, and therefore was unable to make it to the trusty Campsie to witness last night's debacle. However, a Fox-endowed relative has been good enough to tape the game for me, so I'll publish some observations on the match fairly soon.

Friday, July 13, 2007


The Iraq Plan

Everyone has had their go at suggesting a Socceroo lineup for tonight's game, so what the heck - here's my version.

The Oman game made it quite clear that Mark Viduka needed some support up front, particularly in the oppressive tropical conditions. Although it was John Aloisi who was brought on to shoulder some of the burden against Oman, I feel that Archie Thompson would be a better choice in the circumstances; he is quicker, he can drift wide at times to provide variation, and, most importantly, he seems to be in reasonably good form.

An extra man up front means ditching one of the two defensive midfielders, but there should surely be no qualms about doing this. Jason Culina was supernumerary against Oman, and although Vince Grella had one of his worst games for the Socceroos, his performances in the holding role in the past give him first dibs. Mark Milligan would be another possible choice, but I would go with experience in this game (Grella will surely be keen to erase the memory of his performance against Oman, for one thing).

Harry Kewell needs to start on the left wing, rather than wandering aimlessly just behind the front line as he generally does when used in the "free" role behind the main striker. With a genuine winger on the left, there is less need for overlapping fullbacks to provide the width; in Thai conditions, constant overlapping would be an exhausting business, and could lead to the fullbacks regularly being caught out of position (as happened to Brett Emerton particularly against Oman).

Ah yes...Emerton.

It seems to be taken for granted these days that Emerton should occupy the right-back (or right wing-back) slot for the Socceroos; yet he has played as a right-sided midfielder at international level in the past, and at club level. Since he was clearly looking to join the attack against Oman, and often leaving the right side unattended as a result, why not give him the right midfield role against Iraq?

Who to play at right-back, then? Luke Wilkshire, in my opinion. He is much more comfortable on the right, and he has generally played on that side for Twente Enschede this season. This leaves a vacancy at left-back, and I would fill it not with Michael Thwaite, who had his problems there against Uruguay, but with Jason Culina. Again, he has occupied the position in the past (against Japan at the World Cup, for one thing), and has the tactical flexibility to adapt.

This leaves the other central midfield position, and Tim Cahill would be my choice for it. As well as being a midfield poacher par excellence, Cahill can "hassle" with the best of them, and with Iraq possessing a capable Pirlo-style deep playmaker in Nashat Akram, some hassling may be necessary.

Paddy Kisnorbo was a liability in defence against Oman, and I'd be inclined to give Michael Beauchamp a go beside Lucas Neill.



No Bresciano or Sterjovski, who were ineffective on the flanks in our opening game. No Nick Carle either, because I remain convinced that his optimal deployment at this level is as a sub after an hour, full of energy and ideas, to find the gaps that will appear as an opposing team tires.

There are other good suggestions that I've seen, many involving a switch to a back three, but the above would not be a bad deployment, in my view.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Platini in Power – yet another brief update

It has only taken a couple of months since the surprise Euro 2012 hosting decision for one of the co-hosts to suffer a major embarrassment.

The fact that the rioting took place during the Inter-Toto Cup – a truly pointless and largely ignored competition – is perhaps some small consolation for European football administrators.

UEFA have reacted with appropriate firmness, but concerns about the hooligan element in Poland surely remain. Frankly, Legia Warsaw fans have been notorious for such behaviour in the past (on a personal note, I might add that during my ESL teaching days, one of my students was a fanatical Legia fan; his views on politics and race relations might be described, with little exaggeration, as neanderthal).

An article published prior to last year’s World Cup gave a bleak outline of the hooligan problems in Poland. Sure enough, there were scuffles between Polish and German fans at the tournament itself (although, in fairness, the blame seemed to lie more on the German side on that occasion).

UEFA may yet live to regret its brave decision on Euro 2012.


The Usual Suspects

Last night we all had a chance to cast our eyes over the remaining serious contenders for the Asian Cup. The conclusion? Well, that it will be a very tough tournament...but then, we had an inkling of that already.

Although Uzbekistan played with great energy and refreshing enterprise, Iran simply had too much quality in the end. The arrival at half-time of the right-winger Javad Kazemian - a revelation - was ultimately decisive, but others played their part in the second-half revival as well; not least Ali Karimi, breaking into his stride in midfield from time to time, and Bolton's Andranik Teymourian, contributing to Iran's attack far more in the second period. It was he who slid that magnificent ball inside the fullback for Kazemian to score the winner.

Iran have their problems in defence, though. The veteran Rahman Rezaei was caught out regularly for pace, as indeed he was at the World Cup. Furthermore, three times during the match, the astute Uzbek midfielder Timur Kapadze slipped into the Iranian box completely unnoticed, to steal a chance for himself (and one of those chances required a save which owed more to luck than judgement). Tim Cahill, take note.

Overall, it was a very entertaining game, particularly in the second half. And despite Iran's defensive mishaps, they went some way towards establishing their favouritism.

The evening's other match was tough, tight and frenetic. One wonders if either side will be able to maintain the tempo of their opening game, which they were both clearly determined not to lose.

Korea may be without Park Ji-Sung, but they still possess a very capable winger in Yeom Ki-Hun, who posed plenty of danger on the left last night. Cho Jae-Jin does not appear to have the same poise in front of goal as the missing Seol Ki-Hyeon, but he is sure to trouble most defences at the tournament.

The Saudis appear somewhat more nimble than they did at the last World Cup, and with the enthusiastic Malek al-Hawsawi racing all around the forward line, they are far from blunt in attack. Yasser Al-Qahtani, however, was understandably below his best.

A final thought: rather than bewailing the fact that this event now appears such a minefield for the underdone Socceroos, let's be glad that we now have the chance to compete in a regional international tournament of some substance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Who's Afraid - brief update #6

A feelgood piece in the SMH on Fox's ratings for the Australia v. Oman game has drawn a plangent, fussy response from a rugby league administrator.

Ben Cubby's article was unquestionably partisan (he has contributed in the past to the SMH's football blog), but the mere fact that a league mandarin felt moved to pen such a pained reply suggests that the other football codes are feeling the pinch a little.

Incidentally, Mr. Brady's utterly irrelevant comparison between the pay TV ratings for Australia's Asian Cup opener and the free-to-air ratings for club rugby league begs a painfully obvious question.

Back to Ben Cubby's piece for a moment. His quote from John O'Sullivan perfectly encapsulates the off-field benefits that will accrue from our move into Asia, however many logistical and financial difficulties we may face initially:

Our research since 2004 is that it's meaningful fixtures that drive people's interest - that coupled with the fact that they had the World Cup team on the park.

From two genuinely meaningful games in four years for the national team (plus the World Cup, should we qualify) to a couple of dozen, thanks to the vision and enterprise of the new administration.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


More Odious Comparisons - update

In the last of the recent Copa America quarter-finals, there was another of those fine goals which demand a split-screen comparison.

Juan Roman Riquelme’s opener against Peru was an absolute joy to behold. A crisp ball inside from an overlapping Javier Zanetti, a sumptuous double one-two between Riquelme and the substitute Carlos Tevez, and then Riquelme manages to subtly hold off the last defender before firing a precise left-footed shot into the corner.

Remind anyone of this?

OK, there was an extra man involved in Brazil’s gem from the 1986 World Cup (the prolific Careca, on the end of the move), but the similarities are obvious.

And, once again, other parallels can be drawn. Brazil’s 1986 side, under the late Tele Santana, was perhaps the last of their World Cup cohorts to play what could be termed jogo bonito of the old-fashioned variety. Interestingly enough, it is in lesser tournaments, such as the 1999 Copa America and the 2005 Confederations Cup, that Brazil have produced their most stylish performances since then.

Argentina's current coach Alfio Basile, happily, appears to have remained faithful to the footballing principles of José Pekerman. The latter always professed his belief in thoughtful, positive, attractive football, and his charges emphatically produced at last year's World Cup.

It’s extremely heartening, too, to see the marvellously gifted Riquelme back in international football after his supposed retirement.

The semis of the Copa (Argentina against Mexico, Brazil against Uruguay) should be cracking games – each of the contestants put at least four goals past their respective opponents in the quarter-finals.

What a pity the Copa is not being broadcast over here.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Reverse Image

Tonight's Asian Cup game provided an interesting contrast to Australia's painfully mediocre efforts last night.

Once again, a side which had dominated the game was undone by a late, somewhat fortuitous goal. However this time it was the nominal favourite who had been firmly in command for most of the way.

Ivica Osim and his players can consider themselves unlucky...up to a point. In truth, the Japanese should have been two or three goals to the good by the time Qatar's favourite naturalised citizen blasted his free kick past Seigo Narazaki.

In terms of establishing control of the game, Japan did all the things right that Australia did wrong yesterday. Moving the ball around smartly, with Keita Suzuki and Kengo Nakamura proving an effective midfield axis, they kept the Qataris on their toes while not by any means exhausting themselves.

In the second half, they still had enough left in the tank for a proper, sustained assault, and with Yasuyuki Konno overlapping well on the left (he had played a much more conservative role in the first half), the Japanese took the lead with a very well-constructed goal.

It looked for all the world as if it was going to be a solid, thoroughly controlled first-up win for the defending champions.

But you don't allow inferior opposition to snatch a draw without exhibiting some deficiencies, and there were indeed some problems with Japan's performance; problems which, despite the current gloom surrounding the fortunes of the Socceroos, should give Australian fans some hope.

The Japanese defence found the powerful, tricky Sebastian Quintana a real handful in the first half. The moment when he tore past Yuji Nakazawa as if he wasn't there will not have escaped the notice of the UAE's Bruno Metsu, who has a similar bustling striker at his disposal in Faisal Khalil.

Yuki Abe, the other central defender, showed extraordinary laxity in allowing Quintana to sweep past him in the move which led to Qatar's fateful free kick. Abe's eventual clumsy (and probably unnecessary) shove should perhaps have even merited a red rather than a yellow card.

At the other end of the park, Japan's finishing was surprisingly hit-and-miss. The left-winger Satoru Yamagishi twice found himself in promising positions in the first half, but could only manage feeble shots at goal; in the second half, he blazed over from point-blank range.

Above all, Shunsuke Nakamura was very far from his imperious best; evidently he has not quite recovered from the injury which bedevilled his preparations for the event. He may come out of his shell in future games, however - watch this space. In full flow, he is quite something to watch.

One thing has already become very clear at this Asian Cup. No team can be taken lightly.

Toto, we're not in Oceania anymore.


Bangkok Adagio

I closed my last post with observation that Australia needed to show its opponents respect in this tournament, but had no need to approach their group games with any fear.

In tonight's match against an admirable Oman side, Graham Arnold's men did not show their opponents sufficient respect, and paid the penalty. The Socceroos were, in all truth, extremely lucky to emerge from the match with a point.

Arnold had presumably instructed his charges to ease their way into the game, and to practise energy conservation in the first half (the message from those Live Earth concerts must have really hit home). If such was indeed the case, they followed the instructions - and then some.

The intensity level from the Australians in the first half was nothing short of pathetic, and constituted, in my opinion, a major strategic error.

Yes, the word is "strategic", not "tactical"; it had nothing to do with the deployment of the forces on the park. It was, rather, a mistaken approach to the game.

Starting so slowly, nervously and unambitiously, with the implicit attitude that Australia could afford to stroll through its first game in order to win, emboldened a side whose technical quality meant that a little confidence became a dangerous thing.

Oman played excellent, intelligent football throughout. Orderly and tenacious in defence, crisp in their passing and movement, they only needed a little more precision up front if they were to pull off a notable upset.

In short, they outplayed Australia. No question at all.

Arnold and his team can only blame the conditions up to a point. The preparation for the tournament, as I mentioned here, was insufficient. But the Socceroos are sportsmen competing at the top level, and they have had a reasonable amount of time to acclimatize. Let it not be forgotten, the temperatures in Germany last year were also oppressively hot (if perhaps not quite so humid). This did not prevent the 'roos from performing at a brisk tempo throughout that tournament.

In the first half this evening, the tempo was strictly adagio, only hitting andante once the Omanis had scored.

Tactically, Australia were a mess as well. It continues to amaze me that successive Australian managers have failed to realize what most long-term Socceroo fans have known for many, many years: that Harry Kewell is a left-winger, not a playmaker, not a striker, not a box-to-box midfielder. Kewell lined up again in his nebulous "roving" role, last seen against Japan at the World Cup, and was predictably ineffective for the opening half-hour. He moved to the left thereafter, and managed a couple of good runs, before the players decided that the wings and the midfield were not really needed for Australia to equalize.

In fairness to Kewell, he was being very ably man-marked by Ahmed Mubarak, one of the most impressive Omani players.

Mark Viduka, policed very tightly by the laudable Omani defence, was far too isolated: once again, we saw a lone striker system in which there was no penetration on the wings - Marco Bresciano always tended to look inside, and Mile Sterjovski was utterly anonymous - and the lone striker ended up disproving the assertion that no man is an island.

There is surely no need for two holding midfielders at this event. Vince Grella and Jason Culina failed to click at all this evening, and the use of a defensive midfield pairing robbed Viduka of some much-needed support. Time for a change in that department, I feel.

As for the defence...all one can say is that it might have been opening-night nerves. But there was surely no excuse for all four of the defenders to have been caught ball-watching when a simple cross from the left reached Imad Ali in front of goal. Mark Schwarzer's magnificent save avoided what would have been severe embarrassment.

Luke Wilkshire did what he could with the set-pieces, and one or two of his largely predictable right-footed free kicks did indeed pose some danger. But on the whole, the dead-ball problems remain.

In the end, it took the sort of Route One football which would horrify even Terry Butcher for Australia to get its late, undeserved goal. Thank goodness Tim Cahill remains the King of the Second Ball.

All these strictures aside, perhaps a shock such as this evening's game is what Arnold and his side needed. Oman are the best-performing side we have faced in Asian competition so far...perhaps it's for the best that we have encountered "the next level" in Asia before the knockout phase.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


The Chief Obstacles

Iraq and Thailand appeared, pre-tournament, to be Australia's potential banana-peel opponents in its opening round Asian Cup group. Thailand for reasons of home advantage and familiarity with the conditions, and Iraq for reasons of pedigree (and the fact that Australia's recent record against them is less than impressive).

This evening's game should give Graham Arnold and his players considerable confidence.

Neither side looked likely to cause a full-strength Australia too many problems. Although Iraq had an excellent period during the first half, in which their movement and interplay were smooth and dangerous, they appeared to lose the thread of the game towards the end of the half, and completely wilted in the second period. The conditions are already playing their part.

If there is a concern for Australia regarding Iraq, it is surely their set-pieces, the most impressive facet of their play. Australia's defence from set-pieces against Uruguay was mediocre (not quite as mediocre as their delivery from set-pieces, it must be said), and in Iraq's side there lurks a poor man's Recoba of sorts in Hawar Mohammed, whose left-footed inswingers from the right caused the Thais problems at times.

Nashat Akram seems an able midfield organiser, and Salih Sadir a player capable of occasionally producing the unexpected. But the rapidity with which the Iraqis fell into despond after Sutee Suksomkit's powerful shot late in the first half had roused the Thais was remarkable. They barely threatened from open play from that point.

Thailand, too, even in a second half which they dominated, rarely looked like scoring. The men in red were painfully laboured in their movement off the ball - the midfielder Datsakorn Thonglao appeared to have his boots glued to the turf at times - and unimaginative in their methods of attack. The right-back, Suree Sukha, was an honourable exception, but his upfield excursions received little support.

The Thai defence coped fairly well on the whole, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Iraq surprisingly opted for a lone striker approach, which made their task easier. Younis Mahmoud, in fact, fed on scraps throughout, with the exception of Iraq's period of domination in the first half.

In short: Australia must show tonight's combatants respect, but Arnold's men have no need to fear them particularly.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Tragic Birthday - brief update

A reminder that TFT will be celebrating a year of footballing tragedy tonight at the Campsie Hotel. The Campsie Hotel looks like this:

And I look like this:

...in my natural environment.

Many thanks to all who appended their kind comments to the original post, by the way.

Friday, July 06, 2007


The New Rivals

For the next few weeks, TFT will be concentrating mainly (though not exclusively) on the Asian Cup, Australia's first major international competition since last year's exploits in Germany.

During last year's World Cup, I wrote a piece for Shane Davis's Australian Football Review site entitled "The New Rivals", an attempt to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the Asian sides I'd been able to watch at the tournament. Sadly, it appears to have been mysteriously spammed out of existence.

A brief summary, then. Korea were undoubtedly the best of the bunch in Germany (not counting Australia, that is), and not just on the pitch. They were quick, combative and organised, and had a player of genuine class in Park Ji-Sung. The Japanese looked unintegrated and ill-prepared, the Saudis were their usual blend of raw talent and defensive ineptitude, while Iran suffered from having their key player - Ali Karimi - short of match practice and out of form.

My outlook for the current tournament does not, for reasons of personnel more than anything else, square entirely with the above assessment. Korea are not only without the irreplaceable Park, but have also lost the services of Tottenham's Lee Young-Pyo and the experienced striker Seol Ki-Hyeon due to injury.

Although the Taeguk Warriors should progress through their group with little trouble, either China or Iran would prove a tough assignment for them in the quarter-finals, I feel, given that they will be without three key campaigners.

Many of my footballing friends - including the aformenetioned Shane Davis, who always has his finger on the pulse - have picked Iran as their tip for this tournament, and not without cause. They boast a number of players with European experience, including the midfield duo of Andranik Teymourian and Javad Nekounam, both of whom made the switch to Europe after last year's World Cup. Ali Karimi is there again, but he has had another lean season with Bayern Munich (and has recently jumped ship to a Qatari club), so some of the same rustiness we observed at the World Cup may be visible.

Japan, the defending champions, have a settled side, a player of world class in Shunsuke Nakamura (although he is currently recovering from injury), and a canny, experienced coach in Ivica Osim. They probably deserve to go into the tournament as favourites, but there are some question marks over the squad. The midfield, Nakamura apart, looks a little short of experience; Takashi Fukunishi and the much-travelled Junichi Inamoto have not been retained from the 2006 World Cup squad. I feel the Japanese might just miss Inamoto's nous and fighting spirit.

The other Asian heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, is not to be underestimated, but their preparation for the tournament has not been encouraging; in their last two warm-up matches, they have failed to beat Oman and North Korea (the latter being reduced to ten men in the second half), while their star striker Yasser Al-Qahtani is returning from injury and has had little match practice of late.

China could be an interesting outsider. Although they have, surprisingly, omitted their experienced striker Li Jinyu, who gave glimpses of his undoubted quality in the Asian Champions' League (not least against Adelaide United), they can call on several players with European experience, including Sun Jihai, Li Tie and Zheng Zhi, now back with Li Jinyu at Shandong after his loan spell at Charlton.

Where does all this leave Australia? Pound for pound, Graham Arnold's team should be the favourites, but, of course, Asia is terra incognita for so many of the Australian players. Reaching the semi-finals would be a solid achievement, anything more than that would be a pleasant bonus, anything less a relative failure.

We still have an obvious weakness at left-back, we seem not to have quite worked out what's going on up front, and Mark Bresciano's injury troubles are an unwelcome distraction in the lead-up to the opening game. The lack of serious match practice before the tournament is also a concern, but in other respects the team appears to have been preparing solidly.

Mike Cockerill, the man on the spot, has run his ruler over the main contenders as well, and his observations are well worth a read.

It will be a fascinating event.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


East End Tango - update

So the long-running West Ham v. Sheffield United saga is at an end (or so it seems).

Of course, it ended up being Sheffield United v. the Premier League, after the latter had failed to dock West Ham points over the transfer irregularities concerning Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano (now at Liverpool). Certainly, it looked, at the time, a case for points deduction. Certainly, the Premier League's argument that it would be "unfair on the fans" for West Ham to be hit with a points deduction so late in the season was very weak. But the fact that there was no precedent for such a case is probably what forced the tribunal hearing Sheffield United's case to dismiss it, despite their stated sympathy for the Yorkshire club, and their strong censure for West Ham.

What amazes me in all this is that the Premier League did not make a more thorough investigation into the transfers at the time. As I wrote, the duo's move to the Hammers occurred in highly suspicious circumstances; although, apparently, it is not against Premier League rules for club players to be part-owned by other entities (perhaps they should have a look at that one), it was the ceding of some transfer rights to the companies lurking in the background that constituted the breach of the rules.

Given all the speculation and suspicion that surrounded the arrival of the Argentine duo at the time, did the Premier League really take a close enough look at the paperwork back in August?

Middlesbrough have suggested, with some justice, that the misdemeanour for which they were docked three points in 1997 was far less heinous. On our own shores, the salary cap breaches for which Sydney FC had three points deducted seem pretty mild by comparison to West Ham's "deception" over Tevez and Mascherano (the ceding of rights to a third party almost certainly would have allowed the club to acquire the two players for way under the odds - therein lies the real crime).

The ₤5.5 million dollar fine, handed down to West Ham instead of a points deduction, is virtually insignificant compared to the increased revenue they will receive through staying in the Premiership.

I don't feel the Premier League has emerged from the whole affair with any credit.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Galactic Questions

“No-one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public,” the famous journalist and cynic H.L.Mencken once wrote.

Substitute Australian for American, and you have the attitude of the FFA concerning the recently-announced friendly between Sydney FC and LA Galaxy in November.

The general reaction to the announcement has been jubilant in Sydney, sour in Melbourne, and warmly positive elsewhere. Good publicity, profits shared throughout the league (apparently), and a chance to put the A-League on the map.

My own reaction is a little more sanguine.

Firstly, I just can’t fathom what is in it for the American club. The visit is clearly about David Beckham first, second and last. The opportunity for LA Galaxy to build their brand is absolutely minimal, in my view. The FFA are apparently underwriting the trip (more questions to be asked there), so presumably the Americans won’t actually lose money on it. But it’s a considerable inconvenience, and there is the risk of injury.

Secondly, there’s the question of whether Telstra Stadium will sell out, especially given that the match is apparently to be screened on free-to-air TV (one wonders what was paid for a midweek football game of no competitive significance, only made marketable by the presence of one player).

Back to the H.L.Mencken quote. The FFA clearly hope that people will come for the face if not the football.

But will they? I don’t feel that the Sydney sporting public are fools. Obviously Beckham is a drawcard, but if the ticket prices are on the steep side and the match is on free-to-air…

People complained that the crowd for the Socceroos’ friendly against Turkey in Sydney in 2004 was overwhelmingly of Turkish extraction. Given the absurd ticket prices demanded for that match, it was hardly a surprise; Sydney’s Turkish population would have turned out en masse regardless of the price, but the hard-nosed consumers understandably preferred to catch the game on TV.

Hakan Sukur is not quite in the same league as David Beckham as a crowd-puller, of course. But have the FFA misread their constituency on this one?

H.L.Mencken was right about most things, and his stricture about public taste is probably applicable here. But when it comes to one-off glamour games, the appalling embarrassments and misjudgements of 1999 (admittedly under the old administration) have made this particular fan a tad cautious.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Tragic Birthday

Today, TFT turns one year old.

Many thanks to those who've taken an interest in this little obsession of mine, and whose comments (here and elsewhere) make the whole thing very worthwhile from my point of view. Thanks also to those - and you know who you are - whose writings on other sites and in other media give me a peg on which to hang my rants so often.

To celebrate a year of tragic blogging, I'm inviting all concerned to the Campsie Hotel (the friendliest pub in the western suburbs, and a true friend of Australian football) next Saturday night (July 7) from 8:30, to share some drinks and banter and catch the opening match of the Asian Cup later in the evening on one of the big screens.

Friend or foe, Foster or Fink, you're all invited. And if I've ever had a go at you over this last year on the blog, the first two beers are on me (three in your case, Mr. Foster).

In the spirit of the Asian Cup (and to aid recognition for those who don't know me), I'll be there in a Manchester United replica shirt.

Come one, come all.



Australia’s last friendly international prior to last year’s World Cup produced a 3-1 win, but the Socceroo performance was disappointing. Last night in Singapore, it was a very similar story.

Australia could have conceded several times, not least when a Singapore corner late in the first half found their shrewd striker Indra completely unmarked in the box. Good job for Graham Arnold that his positioning appears to be better than his finishing.

There are still a few concerns with the Asian Cup in mind. The use of Luke Wilkshire at left-back was not a notable success, with his right-footedness ensuring that he provided little in the way of penetration on the overlap.

Neither Patrick Kisnorbo nor Michael Beauchamp gave any reason to believe that they will be reliable partners for Lucas Neill in the centre of defence; Beauchamp again showed his vulnerability to quick little strikers playing up close to him, while Kisnorbo looked uncertain throughout. Neill, too, made a most uncharacteristic error in the first half to allow Indra clean through on goal.

On the plus side, it was good to see Kewell back and looking confident. The final goal, in which he and Mark Viduka – still our two finest players – combined so beautifully, was the sort of goal Socceroo fans have long been praying for. Elegant run and cross from Kewell, accurate header by his former Leeds team-mate. A sight for sore eyes.

Brett Holman had another frustrating evening. Playing (I felt) too far behind the lone striker once more, he found himself at the end of most of Australia’s better moves, but his finishing was disappointing. Archie Thompson, by contrast, seemed in good touch, despite his relative lack of recent match practice; perhaps a Viduka-Thompson axis should be the approach against Oman?

The conditions certainly played their part in a sluggish first-half performance from the ’roos, but it was pleasing to note that their opponents, if anything, seemed to tire even more readily in the second. With another week to acclimatize, hopefully Arnold’s men can enhance their endurance levels still further.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?